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Discover resort that offers value for money for families who ski

By Herald Express  |  Posted: January 31, 2013

  • Flaine side: Coming down into Flaine from the Grandes Platires summit on the edge of the Grand Massif David Morgan

  • Paperpic: The view from the Chariande 2 on the way out of Samoens on to the Grand Massif circuit David Morgan

  • Grand Vans: The slopes below the Grand Vans summit David Morgan

  • Samoebs 300: A view of the village Christian Martelet

  • Grand massif express: The view from the top of the lift of the same name coming out of Samoens David Morgan

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BARELY an hour from Geneva airport is one of the biggest ski areas in France — and slowly but surely the British are wising up to it.

The Grand Massif — all 270 kilometres of it — is among the easiest ski areas in France to get to from the UK.

At the last count — and it is worth checking yourself as these things can change — you can fly to Geneva from any one of 20 airports in Great Britain and Northern Ireland with the four main budget airlines.

Catch an early morning flight and you can be skiing by lunchtime the same day — and that's just one of the attractions of the Grand Massif.

The main one is the choice of resorts and slopes to pick from in the fourth-largest ski domain in France, and the feeling of being able to go on your own ski safari every day.

Technically, the Grand Massif is split into two — Secteur Flaine and Secteur Massif — which overlap in the middle but not for long.

To get the best out of your stay buy the six-day combined Grand Massif lift pass priced at 210 euros and go anywhere you like.

The combined pass opens up the option of going out on a daily safari taking in each of the four main resorts on the circuit — Samoëns, Morillon, Les Carroz and Flaine — or dropping into the mountain hamlets of Vernant or Les Molliets.

The resorts are all different in temperament and character — hotels in Carroz, self-catering in Flaine, mixed accommodation and camping in Samoëns and neighbouring Morillon — so it's relatively easy to find something to suit.

Popular with the French are winter holiday centres, ideal for groups, and with prices starting from bed and breakfast from 22 euros a night in Samoëns it is easy to see why!

All the resorts offer chalet accommodation as well.

Having not visited the Grand Massif for a couple of years, I decided it was time to pay a return visit and look again from a new angle.

For my return visit I booked into the three-star Gai Soleil in Samoëns for a couple of days and went exploring.

My first port of call was the tourist office on the edge of the 13th century village for a chat with Justine Curnier from the communications department.

Samoëns appears to have a lot going for it as a base to explore the Grand Massif — and Justine had the facts and figures at her fingertips to bear that out.

"More and more British people are discovering Samoëns and what we have to offer the family who ski," said Justine.

"There are about 20,000 bed spaces in Samoëns and 25 per cent of them are filled by British visitors.

"Our ratio of bed spaces to ski lifts up the mountain mean there are seldom long queues.

"A lot of our accommodation is self-catering which is ideal for the family. Otherwise, there are three three-star hotels, three two stars and one one-star hotel, as well as chalets and the holiday clubs.

"In Samoëns we also have cheap accommodation in gites, which are fine for groups but not really for families."

Clearly, resort managers are expecting more visitors this winter. A new red run — the Parements — has been laid out and there is a moving carpet in the beginners' area for the first time.

Samoëns knows its place in the skiing firmament: it is unashamedly looking for the family who ski.

"We are a family resort trying to offer value for money, not a place with lots of noisy après-ski when the slopes close," said Justine.

"But there are more than 20 bars or bar-restaurants for a night out — and one stays open until 2am.

"Covey's is our Irish bar and is run by two real Irish people. It is good for people who want to watch rugby and English football.

"Guanacao is the bar that opens late and where they have live music sometimes."

Samoëns benefits from the ultra-quick Grand Massif Express gondola that can whisk skiers 900 metres up the mountain in just eight minutes. With a carrying capacity of 2,500 skiers per hour, you won't be queuing for long.

There's a mini ski area at the top — reds and blues and a green for beginners — or the option of a nine-minute ride Chariande chair to the Tete de Saix at 2100, where you are smack, bang centre in the ski domain.

From there you can ski to Flaine, recommended by the locals as a good morning run, Les Carroz for an agreeable lunch at a slope-side hotel bar on the edge of town, or down to Morillon.

With almost 270km of slopes the options are almost endless and I don't propose to try to list them here.

However, no trip to the Grand Massif is complete without taking the Grandes Platires gondola out of Flaine, which chucks you out at the edge of the marked ski area, and taking the oh-so-long blues down to the village of Sixt Fer A Cheval.

You head off for a couple of kilometres on the Serpentine, taking in stunning views of the valley below and across country to Mont Blanc, then at Tete Pelouse you fork right on to Les Cascades.

Les Cascades, at 14km long, is claimed to be the longest blue in France. It is certainly one of the prettiest. With no chair lifts or gondolas overhead anywhere along its length, it is definitely one of the quietest.

Have a coffee in Sixt, which has slopes of its own to tick off, then take the free bus back to Samoëns and start all over again.

CONRAD SUTCLIFFE

www.samoens.com

Le Gai Soleil three-star hotel: www.augaisoleil-hotel-restaurant.com

www.alpsaccommodation.com

www.leberouze.com

www.camping-samoens.com

www.aec-vacances.com

Grand Massif 210 euros, Secteur Samoëns 177 euros.

www.samoens-transfers.com, www.powdercab.com, www.gomassif.com

There are four ski schools serving Samoëns. Details can be found on the resort website.

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